Scientists on Wednesday announced the discovery of the oldest black hole ever, a 13 billion-year-old object that is actually “eating” its host galaxy to death.
Astronomers made this discovery using the James Webb Space Telescope.
The oldest supermassive black hole is surprisingly large, with a mass of a few million times that of our sun. The fact that they existed so early in the universe “challenges our assumptions about how black holes form and grow,” according to a statement from the center. Cambridge University in the UK
News of the discovery was published on Wednesday in the study “A small, powerful black hole at the beginning of the universe.” In a peer-reviewed journal nature.
“A buffet for black holes”
“It's too early to see a black hole this massive in the universe, so we have to think about other ways it might form,” the lead author said. Roberto Maiolino, from the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge and the Kavli Institute of Cosmology. “Very early galaxies were very rich in gas, so they were a buffet for black holes.”
Astronomers believe that supermassive black holes found in the centers of galaxies such as the Milky Way grew to their current size over billions of years, according to the University of Cambridge. But the size of this newly discovered black hole suggests they may form in different ways: they may be “born big” or they could eat up matter at a rate five times higher than previously thought possible.
“This black hole is basically eating [equivalent of] “Full sun every five years,” Maiolino said. NPR. “It's actually much higher than we thought was possible for these black holes.”
The James Webb Telescope represents a “new era” in astronomy
Launched in 2021, the James Webb Space Telescope is the largest and most powerful astronomical observatory ever sent into space.
During Webb's two years of operation, the telescope provided stunning views of our solar system's planets, galaxies, stars and other parts of the universe that had never been seen before.
“It's a new era: the giant leap in sensitivity, especially in the infrared field, is like upgrading from a Galileo telescope to a modern telescope overnight,” Maiolino said. “Before the Web came along, I thought maybe the universe wasn't as interesting when you went beyond what we could see with the Hubble Space Telescope. But that's not the case at all: the universe has been very generous in what it shows us, and that's just the beginning.”
Contributing: Eric Lagata, USA TODAY; Associated Press
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